Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School

illus. by Tim Probert. 240p. Roaring Brook. 2012. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-765-4; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-858-3.
Gr 4–6—Ben Diaz has a secret. His after-school pickle-making club is just a cover for the group's real purpose: pulling pranks. Ben also has a problem. His best friend wants to join, but Hector can't keep a secret, and Hector's grandmother is the stern principal of the boys' middle school. When a prank releases thousands of crickets at a school fair, the principal suspends all extracurricular activities until the culprits turn themselves in. The club members organize a protest to reclaim students' rights, as Ben says, "to be responsible for our choices. We can't if she won't let us." The resolution will satisfy even if it's a bit idealized, just as the novel's kid-empowerment theme will resonate with young readers, but it does not help them to consider that their choices-like pranks-can have unintended consequences. Ben's first-person narration feels authentic. What feels forced is the device of the protagonist warning readers in chapter one to continue with the story "only if you think you can handle it." The club members all have backstories that make them distinct characters; the adults get less attention. Probert's finely detailed, expressive illustrations depict the club's racially diverse makeup. Baker's debut novel shows promise and offers an enjoyable read.M. Kozikowski, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY
An entertaining novel with a fun concept—a group of sixth graders become “secret agents” to pull undercover pranks. Young readers will enjoy imagining the opening gag—filling an entire classroom with plastic balls from a pizza parlor’s defunct ball pit! The kid-centric tricks are fun and mostly harmless (though inconvenient for the people who must, for example, clean up after confetti rains down from the air vents or bubbles appear in the school fountain). But when a member executes a mean-spirited practical joke that affects others, the club has to deal with the ramifications, and the kids come up with a workable solution. Tim Probert’s illustrations depict the diverse cast of characters in lively scenes.
Ben is psyched to learn that Pete’s Pizza is giving away all the little plastic balls from its ball pit -- “as is” -- to anyone who can tote them away (“I know Katie McLeod’s little brother puked in there at his birthday party, so I had a pretty good idea of what ‘as is’ meant. Still, free!”). Ben gets the great idea of filling up his classroom with them, creating the kickoff event for a series of tricks done by the P.T.A. (Prank and Trick Association). Using an afterschool pickle-making club as cover, but intentionally leaving out best friend Hector (whose stern grandmother is the school principal), Ben handpicks his crew: ingenious Frankie and actor Oliver (and he also ends up getting stuck with a feisty girl named Bean). The elation everyone feels after a successful trick -- such as the classic suds-in-the-fountain one -- is balanced by the stress of keeping a secret, especially when the pranks don’t turn out as planned. Ben’s first-person narration is fresh, informal, and funny. Baker writes with a light and lively hand, depicting a realistic urban setting peopled with engaging characters from various ethnic backgrounds. A website provides readers with a forum to record their own pranks (and provides some pickle recipes). susan dove lempke

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